Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Varanasi Adventures

Graduation tonight, at last! What a long and challenging experience. Went into town for some last minute shopping. Then I dropped my clothes off at an orphanage. The kids were delighted. Went to bed early as I am leaving tomorrow at 4:30 AM.
Vishva, Chetanah and Matvi all arose early to say goodbye to us. 6 of us hired a jeep to take us to the Hardwar train station. The jeep was 1/2 hour late. The train departs at 6:20 AM and it usually takes an hour to get there. We were doing fine until we went up a road that was blocked with sewer pipe strewn in the road. Had to turn around and go a different direction. Made it to the train station with 10 minutes to spare. Train was on time. Pushed my way to the front to jump onto the car as the train stops for only 2 minutes. Went to my seat in an air conditioned car and found a woman sitting in it. She was sitting next to another woman who she said was her mother- her mother was sick and she asked if I would exchange seats with her- of course I said yes although I knew it could be a ruse. She lead me to a seat 2 cars back. It was a perfect exchange for me. I sat next to a wonderful Bengali woman who is studying to be an orthodontist. She repeatedly told me that when I return to India I have to visit a rhino conservation area in East India. She pointed out that they were special rhinos as they have one horn not 2 as in Africa. She also gave me advice on what to expect when I get off at the Delhi train station and warned me to be careful in Varanasi as there is a criminal element there. The train was delayed by a half hour but still enough time to get a taxi to the airport. Got off the train with no idea as to how to find a prepaid taxi booth. I followed the crowd out of the train station. Observed some signs stating, "Warning, be cautious as anyone could be carrying explosives." That was the extent of train station security that I could observe. As I was walking out of the station, taxi drivers began following me trying to get me to go with one of them. I kept saying ,no, and tried to ignore them. As I continued walking I now had about 15 taxi drivers following me. I finally asked one of them where the prepaid booth is and they all escorted me there. After paying for the taxi (taxi fares are regulated this way) I then turned around to the 15 beaming men, said eenie meenie miny mo, and then picked one. Jumped into the 3 wheeled tuk tuk and off we went. Arrived at the airport with one hour to spare. The jet ride was 1 1/2 hour long. As promised someone was waiting for me (he held up a sign with my name on it.) His name is Akkash, a bright, young twenty something fellow who works at the music academy. We arrived at the academy an hour later. My room is very small, plain, with pictures of Krishna and Gansh on the walls. There's a bed, no furniture. Before I unpacked Akkash insisted on showing me the town. I told him I was hungry and asked him to take me to a restaurant. He took me to all the reputable shops I should shop at. First a quick stop grocery, an internet cafe, a restaurant we weren't going to eat at, then a bookstore, then a CD store. I finally said "√čnough, I need to eat NOW!" HE TOOK ME DOWNSTAIRS TO A LOVELY OUTDOOR RESTAURANT ALONG THE GANGA. THE RIVER IS SO WIDE HERE THAT YOU CAN'T SEE THE OTHER SIDE.
Tomorrow lessons in tabla begin.

11/9 4:30 AM
I guess this is the time I will be rising daily. The call to prayer begins at this time, along with fire pujas and the Gayatri Mantra broadcast for all to hear. I've arrived in time for another big festival. It is called Deo Dipovli. At sunrise people will bathe at the Ghats (Broad, wide steps descending into the Ganga from large temples and guest houses. There will also be music and dancing in the evening.

Met a woman named Grace from Brazil. She is staying at the academy studying sitar. Today is preparation day for the festival. Went for a walk at 8AM. A sound feast- many drums flutes, voices singing, talking, yelling, firecrackers, pots and pans banging. A sight feast- beautiful fruit, vegetable and flower displays, sugar cane vendors, balloon vendors. A smell feast- urine, cow dung, smoke, dust, spices, neroli and jasmine. I know I am in a very different place from Rishikesh.

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